- Facebook announced in a blog post that it is removing more than 5,000 ad targeting options in an effort to prevent misuse and combat discriminatory pratices. For example, advertisers will be restricted from excluding audiences based on characteristics such as ethnicity or religion.
- The move is related to a complaint that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development filed against Facebook. The complaint accuses the platform of helping landlords and home sellers violate the Fair Housing Act by letting them target only certain demographics, per TechCrunch. Facebook has previously said the practice violated its advertising policies.
- Facebook will also require all U.S. advertisers to certify compliance with its nondiscrimination policy in the Ads Manager tool in order to continue advertising on the platform. Advertisers identified as offering housing, employment or credit have already been required to certify that they comply with the policy.
Facebook trimming back its ad targeting options shows how the company is continuing to try and put users first as its business practices face potentially unprecedented levels of scrutiny. While much of that scrutiny stems from mishandling of data privacy, such as through the Cambridge Analytica scandal that broke in the spring, working to combat discriminatory practices by advertisers might also help Facebook win itself back into some users' good graces. Eliminating 5,000 targeting options and requiring all advertisers to certify that they comply with nondiscrimination guidelines could also help ensure people are not unfairly targeted or excluded from important services.
The change might also simply just be a long time coming. Facebook has been criticized for years for how its ad targeting tools can be misused for discriminatory means. Facebook said earlier this year that it would hire more ad reviewers and use machine learning to identify discriminatory ads before they run. The company also added reminders for advertisers about the platform's anti-discrimination policies, per TechCrunch. In April, the social network said it planned to remove categories related to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and religion.
Facebook has made several other changes to its ad targeting capabilities over the past few months that impact marketers' ability to tailor their campaigns but are generally intended to boost transparency and trust. The company announced plans to shuter its Partner Categories program sometime this year, which allows advertisers to target ads based on third-party data. Facebook also recently began requiring advertisers to tell users if data brokers provided the information that led them to being targeted with an ad.
The collective impact of these changes, combined with Facebook reaching new levels of maturity, has appeared to start to affect the social juggernaut's business. Facebook executives have for years warned of a slowdown as ad real estate crowds out and people spend less time on the site, for example. The company’s growth decelerated by about 7 percentage points from Q1 in the second quarter. Facebook ultimately missed Wall Streets' estimates in Q2 earnings reported in July. The miss, unusual for the company, slashed its market value by $151 billion at one point — a historic collapse in value for a U.S.-traded company to see in a single day.